The Thinking Dog Blog: Coping with the death of a pet

I intended to write about saying good-bye when another beloved dog, Timo, died several months ago.

[image-1]Timo was my first dog. As such, he survived my "learning curve" as I made many mistakes in raising and educating him. After I divorced, he remained with my ex-husband, and Jana, our young golden retriever, stayed with me. Moshe, my ex-husband, cared for and loved Timo, and he was the one who had to make the difficult decision to euthanize Timo. Timo was nearly 15 and enjoyed many years of playing ball and running along the garden fence barking at passersby. Timo loved to go for long walks, but he also loved to snuggle into a lap or a blanket to watch TV. As he aged, he slowed down a lot, of course, and when he could barely stand and could no longer eat, Moshe knew that it was time to let go.

For the humans left behind, coping with the death of a loved pet is not easy, no matter the circumstances. I am encouraged, though, by a growing number of services available to help us through our grief.

A growing number of veterinarians have recognized the need for people to be able to allow their pets the dignity and comfort of dying at home. Many vets will perform this service for their clients. Other vets have peaceful, calm rooms where families can spend last moments with their dying pets and where the euthanasia is performed in a calming atmosphere, not a cold, sterile clinic. Though it is difficult, if you have an elderly or terminally ill pet, talk to your vet about what you want well ahead of time.

[image-2]But dealing with the loss of a pet requires far more than making logistical arrangements. Our society is divided between people who get it and people who might say something like, “It was just a dog.” Fortunately, many of the people who understand that losing a pet can be as devastating as losing a close human relative are reaching out to help others cope with the loss of their pets. In fact, a friend of mine in California created a liturgy for a pet memorial service and is creating pet loss counseling groups. She identified the need among members of her church, and has created a service where people can reflect on what animals have brought to their own lives and to the lives of others, and where the names of their pets are read and they have the chance to memorialize their pets.

Nearby, in Pinellas Park, Pet Angel Memorial Center offers burial or cremation services and a range of support and memorial service options to bereaved pet owners. Many veterinary clinics offer support groups for grieving clients. And, of course, online resources abound. Some wonderful sites are Lighthearted Press’s Pet Loss Comfort pages, offering articles on planning for and coping with the loss of a pet, and the Pet Loss Grief Support Website. I often send a copy of Anna Quindlen’s Good Dog. Stay. to friends who have lost a beloved dog. A loving tribute to her Labrador, Beau, Quindlen’s book is beautifully written and I have found it to be comforting. Until we can figure out how to extend our dogs’ lifespans to match our own, it’s helpful to know that there are others out there who understand your loss and can help you find ways to cope with your grief.

Not long ago, I heard sad news. Ideal, a dog I have known and loved for 7 years, had died. She died peacefully, in her sleep, which was comforting, since she was coping with osteosarcoma and other health issues. Ideal was a gentle, loving soul. Several of her puppies are service and therapy dogs and share her sweet, sensitive personality. She was the sort of dog who could intuit what a person was feeling and offer company, comfort, or a friend to share a happy moment with. She will be missed by many, many people, and probably dogs as well.

It’s often said that the biggest problem with dogs is that they don’t live long enough. How true that is.

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